High-Level Thoughts

A really interesting look at the history of our relationship with psychedelics, and how we might rekindle some of that communication with nature.

Summary Notes


  • Ample anecdotal evidence supports the existence of a preference for intoxicated states among elephants, chimpanzees, and some butterflies.
  • This book will explore the possibility of a revival of the Archaic or preindustrial and preliterate attitude towards community, substance use, and nature — an attitude that served our nomadic prehistoric ancestors long and well, before the rise of the current cultural style we call “Western.”
  • Deep-seated cultural biases explain why the Western mind turns suddenly anxious and repressive on contemplating drugs. Substance induced changes in consciousness dramatically reveal that our mental life has physical foundations.

1: Shamanism: Setting the Stage

  • No notes

2: The Magic in Food

  • When thinking about drugs, we tend to focus on episodes of intoxication, but many drugs are normally used in sub threshold or maintenance doses; coffee and tobacco are obvious examples in our culture. The result of this is a kind of “ambience of intoxication.” Like fish in water, people in a culture swim in the virtually invisible medium of culturally sanctioned yet artificial states of mind.
  • My contention is that mutation-causing, psychoactive chemical compounds in the early human diet directly influenced the rapid reorganization of the brain’s information-processing capacities. Alkaloids in plants, specifically the hallucinogenic compounds such as psilocybin, DMT, and hardline, could be the chemical factors in the protohuman diet that catalyzed the emergence of human self-reflection.
  • small amounts of Psilocybin, consumed with no awareness of its psychoactivity while in the general act of browsing for food, and perhaps later consumed consciously, impart a noticeable increase in visual acuity, especially edge detection.
  • Because psilocybin is a stimulant of the central nervous system, when taken in slightly larger doses, it tends to trigger restlessness and sexual arousal. Thus, at this second level of usage, by increasing instances copulation, the mushrooms directly favored human reproduction.

3: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge

  • This relationship between human beings and mushrooms had to have also included cattle, the creators of the only source of the mushrooms.

4: Plants and Primates: Postcards from the Stoned Age

  • From Huxley: I find myself agreeing with the eminent Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C. D. Broad, that we should do well to consider he suggestion that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which his likely to be practically useful.
  • … through Homeric times people did not have the kind of interior psychic organization that we take for granted. Thus, what we call ego was for Homeric people a god. When danger threatened suddenly, the god’s voice was heard in the individual’s mind; an intrusive and alien psychic function that was expressed as a kind of meta program for survival called forth under moments of great stress.
  • Like sexuality, altered states of consciousness are taboo because they are consciously or unconsciously sensed to be entwined with the mysteries of our origin—with where we came from and how we got to be the way we are.
  • Use of Hallucinogens can only be sanctioned in hunting and gathering societies. When agriculturists use these plants, they are unable to get up at dawn the morning after and go hoe the fields. At that point, corn and grain become gods—gods that symbolize domesticity and hard labor. These replace the old goddesses of plant-induced ecstasy.

5: Habit as Culture and Religion

  • … Ibogaine, the indole hallucinogen responsible for the pharmacological activity of the Bwiti plant, is widely recognized both as a factor holding married couples together in the face of Fang institutions like easy divorce and as an aphrodisiac. It is perhaps one of the few plants of the many dozens claimed to be aphrodisiacs that actually performs as advertised.

6: The High Plains of Eden

  • General note from this section: there’s a ton of cool old artwork that at least appears to represent mushroom gods, or mushrooms as a deity.
  • The Tassili-n-Ajjer of 12,000 BC may well have been the partnership paradise whose loss has created one of the most persistent and poignant of our mythological motifs—the nostalgia for paradise, the idea of a lost golden age of plenty, partnership, and social balance.
  • The story of Genesis is the story of a woman who is mistress of the magical plants. She eats and shares the fruits of the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowledge, fruits which are “pleasing to the eye and pleasing to contemplate.” Note that “the eyes of both of them were opened and they discovered that they were naked.” At the metaphorical level, they had attained consciousness of themselves as individuals and of each other as “Other.” So the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge gave accurate insights, or perhaps it enhanced their appreciation of sensuality.

7: Searching for Soma: The Golden Vedic Enigma

  • Soma was a juice or sap pressed out of the swollen fibers of a plant that was also called Soma. The texts seem to imply that the juice was purified by being poured through a woolen filter and then in some cases was mixed with milk. Again and again, and in various ways, we find Soma intimately connected with the symbolism and rituals related to cattle and pastoralism. As will be discussed, the identify of Soma is not own. I believe this connection to cattle is central to any attempt to identify Soma.
  • Is S. Cubensis responsible for the elevation of the cow to a sacred status? And for the inclusion of the urine and dung of cows in the pancagavya (the Vedic sacrifice)?
  • The psilocybin mushroom religion, born at the birth of cognition in the grasslands of Africa, may actually be the generic religion of human beings. All later adumbrations of religion in the ancient Near East can be traced to a cult of Goddess and cattle worship, whose Archaic roots reach back to an extremely ancient rite of ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms to induce ecstasy, dissolve the boundaries of the ego, and reunite the worshiper with the personified vegetable matrix of planetary life.

8: Twilight in Eden: Minoan Crete and the Eleusinian Mystery

  • The first step away from the symbiosis of the human-fungal partnership that characterized the early pastoralist societies was the introduction of other psychoactive plant substitutes for the original mushroom.
  • The antiseptic properties of honey have made it a preferred medium among many peoples for the reservation of delicate foods. And in Mexico honey has long been used to preserve psilocybin-containing mushrooms.

9: Alcohol and the Alchemy of Spirit

  • Mead, or fermented honey, seems to have been the recreational drug of the Indo-European tribes.
  • Greek wines are sometimes described as requiring many dilutions before they could be drunk with comfort. This seems to suggest that Greek wines were more akin to extracts and tinctures of other plant essences than they were to wine as we know it today.
  • …fermented alcohol can be produced in prodigious, and hence commercial, amounts. The toddy palms of Southeast Asia produce debatable drinkable alcohol straight from the tree. Birds, raccoons, horses, and even wasps and butterflies are aware of the fleeting virtues that attend eating fermented fruit.
  • In many cases, alcohol literally was slavery as the triangular trade of slaves, sugar, and rum and other practices of European civilization spread over the earth, subjugating other cultures.
  • Wife beating without alcohol is like a circus without lions.
  • how can we explain the legal toleration for alcohol, the most destructive of all intoxicants, and the almost frenzied efforts to repress nearly all other drugs? Could it not be that we are willing to pay the terrible toll that alcohol extracts because it is allowing us to continue the repressive dominator style that keeps us all infantile and irresponsible participants in a dominator world characterized by the marketing of ungratified sexual fantasy?

10: The Ballad of the Dreaming Weavers: Cannabis and Culture

  • Because of its subliminally psychedelic effect, cannabis, when pursued as a lifestyle, places a person in intuitive contact with less goal-oriented and less competitive behavior patterns. For these reasons Marijuana is unwelcome in the modern office environment, while a drug such as Coffee, which reinforces the values of industrial culture, is both welcomed and encouraged.
  • In our culture, private drug taking is viewed as dubious; solitary drug use is viewed as positively morbid; and, indeed, all introspection is seen this way. The Archaic model for use of psychoactive plants, including cannabis, is quite the opposite. Ritual, isolation, and sensory deprivation are the techniques used by the Archaic shaman seeking to journey in the world of the spirits and ancestors.
  • If every alcoholic were a pothead, if every crack user were a pothead, if every smoker smoked only cannabis, the social consequences of the “drug problem” would be transformed.

11: Complacencies of the Peignoir: Sugar, Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate

  • Evolutionary logic dictates that in situations of food scarcity those animals able and willing to tolerate many marginal foods will be more evolutionarily successful than those that can accept only a limited number of items into their diet… there will be pressure on a given animal to broaden its definition of what are acceptable foods by broadening its tastes.
  • After alcohol and tobacco, sugar is the most damaging addictive substance consumed by human beings. Its uncontrolled use can be a major chemical dependence.
  • The Opium trade was nothing less than British terrorism waged against the population of China until the Chinese government’s restrictions against the importation of opium were totally done away with.
  • … there is even an apocryphal story that when the prophet lay ill he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who offered him coffee to restore him to health. Because of the plant’s long association with the Arabs, Linnaeus, the great Danish naturalist and the inventor of modern scientific taxonomy, named the plan Coffea arabica.

12: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

  • tobacco is no less addicting than the supposed hardest of hard drugs, Heroin. When this fact was stated by U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, it was quickly buried in the storm of derision unleashed by the major American Tobacco companies and their legions of addicted customers.
  • … while Heroin is highly addictive and while one of its preferred routs of ingestion, intravenous self-inaction, offers opportunities for the spread of serious disease, it is nevertheless no more dangerous than its legal and highly touted competitor, tobacco: “Volumes of scientific research… have concluded that no known organic damage is caused by the use of heroin. It is a physically benign, though powerfully addicting, substance.”

13: Synthetics: Heroin, Cocaine, and Television

  • Morphine was named after Morpheus, the greek god of dreams.
  • Once Heroin, invented as a cure for Morphine addiction, was introduced, it quickly replaced morphine as the synthetic [[Opiates]] of choice among addicts.
  • In 1906 the Pure Food and Drugs Act was passed; it made Cocaine and Heroin illegal and set the stage for the legally sanctioned suppression of the synthetic and addictive compounds found in the opium poppy and the coca bush.
  • The nearest analogy to the addictive power of television and the transformation of values that is wrought in the life of the heavy user is probably heroin. Heroin flattens the image; with heroin, things are neither hot nor cold the junkie looks out at the world certain that whatever it is, it does not matter.

14: A Brief History of Psychedelics

  • The costs of drug education and drug treatment are small relative to routine military expenditures and could be contained. What cannot be contained are the effects that psychedelics would have in shaping the cultural self-image if all drugs were legal and available. This is the hidden issue that makes governments unwilling to consider legalization: the unmanaged shift of consciousness that legal and available drugs, including plant psychedelics, would bring is extremely threatening to a dominator, ego-oriented culture.

15: Anticipating the Archaic Paradise

  • It is important to use only those compounds that do not insult the physical brain; regardless of what the physical brain does or doesn’t have to do with the mind, it certainly has much to do with the metabolism of hallucinogens. Compounds alien to the brain and therefore difficult for it to metabolize should be avoided.
  • It was said that women could not be given the vote because society would be destroyed. Before that, kings could not give up absolute power because chaos would result. And now we are told that drugs cannot be legalized because society would disintegrate.
  • Through psychedelics we are learning that God is not an idea, God is a lost continent in the human mind. That continent has been rediscovered in a time of great peril for ourselves and our world.
  • Most people are addicted to some substance and, more important, all people are addicted to patterns of behavior. Attempting to distinguish between habits and addictions does damage to the insoluble confluence of mental and physical energies that shape the behavior of each of us.
  • There’s a great overview of how he’d change the drug laws on page 269.

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